WHEN YOU DO THE DISHES, DO THE DISHES
“Wherever you are, be there totally.”
Mindfulness is a deceptively simple concept.
If contemporary expert Jon Kabat-Zinn were here, I think he would say, “simple, but not easy.”
He defines mindfulness as paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, non-judgmentally (Kabat-Zinn, 2013). With that being said, entire books have been written describing this concept, so that definition – while beautifully concise – probably doesn’t do it justice.
The other tricky thing about mindfulness is that understanding it really requires practicing it.
A technique that I have taught almost every client I’ve ever worked with is a mindfulness exercise that requires us to attend to our external environment.
I ask them to describe to me – using only their senses – 5 things that they can see around them, 4 things that they are touching, 3 things that they can hear, 2 things that they can smell, and 1 that they can taste. If you’d like, you can try that now. Go ahead – I’ll wait.
The reason that this exercise is so helpful is that our senses are really the only conduit to objective information that we have (as much as anything can be objective). It is an intentional practice of attending to what’s happening in the moment without judgment. Though we can practice mindfulness of almost anything, our external environment is often a good, safe place to start.
If I could only impart one skill to my clients, it would – without a doubt – be mindfulness.
Mindfulness has certainly been trending in popularity, and I know that you may have preconceived ideas about this topic that have unfairly tainted your understanding (and therefore openness) to it. Please try to suspend your judgment momentarily!
To quickly dispel a few common myths: mindfulness is not owned by any particular religion, it is not the same as meditation, and it does not always result in peacefulness, contentment or euphoria.
Simple, right? But not easy. Our brains are constant chatterboxes. They are relentlessly consuming information, analyzing information, and responding to information. And thank goodness for that!
But unfortunately, that means that our attention is constantly being pulled away from what we are endeavoring to attend to.
The more we have practiced multi-tasking, the more easily our attention will be pulled away.
While helpful if we are trying to cook dinner, fold laundry, referee our kids’ arguments, and help with homework, this skill becomes less constructive when we are attempting to practice mindfulness. “Isn’t multi-tasking GOOD?” you may ask. Sure, sometimes.
But studies show that humans tend to spend about half their lives in auto-pilot – going through the motions of life without actually being present for it (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010). We’re missing half our lives, you guys!
Additionally, if we aren’t aware of what is actually happening moment-to-moment, we are powerless to change anything.
In this way, mindfulness is the baseline of any transformative journey. We really have to start here.
I challenge you, for the next 7 days, to choose 3 activities that you were going to do anyway, and, for two minutes, do them mindfully. If you are doing the dishes, for two minutes of doing the dishes, really do the dishes.
Notice how the color reflects off the soap bubbles, how the warm water feels on your hands, the sounds, the smells, and even the tastes. And then reflect. What did you notice?